THE news that Honda is to close its Swindon branch by 2022, with the loss of 3500 jobs, has been met with shock and anger in the community.
Honda confirmed the move on Tuesday. The Bishop of Swindon, Dr Lee Rayfield, posted on Twitter: “The shock of hearing Honda are closing the plant at Swindon hit me deep in my gut. It was a combination of shock, huge concern for the town and those affected, together with a sense of anger.”
The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, whose diocese includes Swindon, said that the decision was “a devastating blow” for the town. “We think of not just the thousands of people in the area who face the prospect of redundancy, but also the thousands of others who will be affected by the plant’s closure.”
Workers at the Swindon plant told the BBC that several members of the same family were facing redundancy. Thousands more jobs in the supply chain which provides parts to Honda could also be affected by the closure.
While the Government attempts to avoid leaving the European Union on 29 March without a deal, businesses, manufacturers, and supermarkets have all reported spending millions of pounds in preparation for a no-deal outcome, including stockpiling and closures.
Nissan — a rival Japanese carmaker — cancelled plans to build its X-Trail SUV in Sunderland earlier this month, citing Brexit among the reasons.
The senior vice-president for Honda in Europe, Ian Howells, denied that the Swindon closure was connected to Brexit, however. He told Radio 4 on Tuesday: “We’re seeing unprecedented change in the industry on a global scale. We have to move very swiftly to electrification of our vehicles because of demand of our customers and legislation. This is not a Brexit-related issue for us: it’s being made on the global-related changes I’ve spoken about.
“We’ve always seen Brexit as something we’ll get through, but these changes globally are something we will have to respond to. We deeply regret the impact it will have on the Swindon community.”
The Japanese ambassador to the UK, Koji Tsuruoka, said: “This is a decision, I have been told, that had nothing to do with Brexit because they are facing a much more challenging world which is moving towards a mobility revolution. The emission of carbon dioxide is no longer acceptable, and there is a very rapid shift towards electrification; and therefore they are consolidating their operation and moving the whole industry into electric rather than petrol.
“I don’t see much of a connection between what Nissan decided and what Honda decided.”
Investment in the UK car industry has dropped 80 per cent in the past three years.
The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Dame Caroline Spelman, who is MP for Meriden, said in a Commons debate last week that Brexit had “made things worse” for the industry. “Many of my constituents have lost their jobs. The claimant count has shot up on my council estate, and, given the lag in statistics, I fear that things will only get worse. Unemployment is now at 7.4 per cent, compared with the national average of 2.3 per cent.”